#2 from the Annals: Never test ride a horse you don't know away from its owner, especially not on pavement.
I could even say don't ever test ride a horse you don't know, always let the owner ride it for you first. Or, never test ride a horse on pavement. Period.
As you know by now, I learned this from experience. I saw an ad for a friendly, seven-year-old, been-there-done-that Paint gelding in Coeur D'Alene at a time I was looking for another horse. He sounded good, so my husband and I drove up to see him.
A big, modern cowboy type guy came out of the house to greet us. He had about five acres, well-laid out, and about five horses. It was a nice house--well-kept--the horses were all nice-looking and clean--well-fed.
But seeing all the other horses there, my first question was, why is this one for sale?
His answer: It was his daughter's horse. They'd purchased him about five months before for barrel racing, but he didn't work out. He just wasn't a good fit.
Answer: He's cinchy and, occasionally, he bites, but once you get him saddled, he's GREAT! But none of this really matters, because even if he'd said he was P-E-R-F-E-C-T, I still should not have got on him.
He saddled and bridled the horse (and yes, the horse was cinchy) and he also used a running martingale on him. (I don't know how I feel about these. My first colt 25 years ago was trained with one and it worked well. My horse, Cowboy, came with a tiedown--he'd, apparently, been ridden with it for years--and it seemed fine, but I read horror stories about them on the trail--getting caught, drowning horses--so I just took it off one day and never rode with it again. Did he ever need it? I tend to doubt it. So, personally, I don't care for any of these aids.) This horse had one.
Here's where it gets hairy: The owner asked if I'd like to ride him down the road (there wasn't a good spot on his property in the subdivision.) At first I declined, but then he pressured me a bit saying it'd be fine, etc., so I started feeling guilty--that I was being a wuss--I caved. Stupid me, always doubting myself back then--always thinking I had to prove myself--always thinking there were people who knew sooo much more than me and turning off my warning signs and BRAIN! I can just see it--off I rode down the paved street leaving my husband and him talking on his lawn behind me. (The way this test ride was going to go--it may have well been the last thing I ever saw!)
Looking back, there are lots of things I wonder--Number 1, why didn't he volunteer to ride him first? He'd given me enough information to know he didn't trust the horse--that of all the horses he owned, this was the one he didn't want--that he hadn't even owned him very long and during that time, he hadn't corrected his vices....I could go on and on.
I should add to this, unless you aren't horrified enough at the thought of me riding a strange horse, an ill-mannered horse down a busy, paved highway, that I also was NOT wearing a helmet.
Off we go and, as I said, it was busy, the horse was tight, but not tucked..I thought, let's take the first turn off this street onto a quiet one. That turn came fast, but it was that turn where it all went wrong, too.
We took the first left off the busy road, but he realized, right quickly, he was out of sight of his owner. He didn't like that. He started to jig a bit, then he'd stop and loosen up. I'd think, Whew, he's relaxed. (Looking back, I do give the poor horse credit for trying to calm himself) But then, he'd tighten up again, loosen, tighten, and on and on. It became apparent, he was working himself up and soon there wouldn't be any moments of relaxation. I thought, I've got to take the next turn and circle this horse back.
We took the next turn around the block, however, when we got about mid-way down, he could see his backyard through the houses separating him from it--he could hear his buddies calling out for him, too.
He tried to flip a turn their direction--I tried to keep him walking straight--he started to jig--he tucked his head deep into his chest and his hind-end started to flip around. The running martingale was tucked in, too--and I had, basically, no way of getting his head around for a circle. At that point, he had all the control, and he didn't want me on him and he didn't want to be away from his buds. He wasn't going to go a step forward further away from them (since he saw a direct path home.) He was telling me, beyond any doubt, I'm going to buck you off and run back to my barn.
I made an emergency decision. (It often comes down to these split-second decisions, doesn't it? You make them so fast--they come straight from the gut--you don't have time to question them, yet everything hinges on their success.)
I HAD to get off that horse, but from where I was--on the pavement--he was not relaxed enough to let me dismount, and I did not want to hit the asphalt if he bolted or bucked. My decision was to let him go where he wanted--toward his house so that he'd bring his head back up and move forward. It would also get us off the road and into a yard.
I did it--gave 90 percent of everything to him, and it was all going as planned--he turned toward home, in seconds we were trotting through the neighbor's yard, and I could get his head to the side just enough to buy me a safe second where I slipped right off onto the grass and held him by the reins while he jigged circles around me. I was on the ground! Standing! I was alive--unharmed!
My heart was pounding out of my chest, as it should have been. The poor horse was puffing and snorting and looking toward his pasture. My hands were trembling from adrenaline.
His property was separated from the neighbor's by a fence, so I walked him back to the house from the way I'd come, with him prancing at my side. When I got back, I didn't care what anyone thought of me--good or bad. I handed the reins to the owner, and said I wasn't interested. In fact, I was pissed--at him, at myself, at the situation, but I hadn't time to process it all yet. My husband and I made a hasty departure.
There were so many bad things about that incident, where do I start? I don't even know what kind of horse he really was because it was such a horrible way to test ride him. It wasn't fair to him. It wasn't fair to me. But it was, certainly, my bad decision. Nothing he did was that abnormal--he didn't know me--I didn't know his ways--I couldn't comfort him--but his buddies could. How can I blame the horse? I can't.
So, lesson #2 for the annals--don't test ride a horse you don't know on pavement.